Though in the wild state it is no mimic, the engaging BULLFINCH (upper pair, male left) in captivity may easily be taught while young to whistle simple tunes. The LINNET, pleasing vocalist of the European finches, bobs on a twig (right), awaiting its turn at the bath. Eating out of the hand quickly becomes a habit with the pert little EUROPEAN SISKIN (lower left). The gay, sweet-voiced EUROPEAN GOLDFINCH (center, below) is far more brilliantly colored than the familiar American species. These four birds, like most of our smaller feathered pets, come from the Old World.
By Alexander Wetmore
Originally appeared in the December 1938 issue of the National Geographic Magazine
This Web version COPYRIGHT 2004
The finch, or sparrow, family has many species that are kept in cages or aviaries, since their small size, tameness, and trim, pleasing form give them definite attraction. Finches are distributed abundantly throughout regions where the keeping of small birds has long been an interest, and, as they are easily obtained, numerous kinds have become highly popular. Most of them thrive in captivity, as they are seed eaters whose care is not difficult.
Of the considerable variety only a few may be mentioned here, as there is not space to describe many common kinds, such as the greenfinch, brambling, chaffinch, yellow bunting, saffron finch, grassquits, red cardinals, and many others that are prized by bird keepers.
A prime favorite of this family is the bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula), which as a species ranges across Europe and northern Asia to Japan. Several varieties or subspecies are found through this vast region, differing slightly in color and size.
The most common one in captivity is the European bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula europaea). The male is beautifully colored in gray, black, soft red and white; the female is duller in hue (Color Plate III).
While wild trapped birds soon become tame, the most interesting are those that are taken from the nest and reared by hand, or those that are bred in aviaries, as they become entirely without fear and are easily handled.
The ordinary song is a low, warbling whistle, which, while pleasing, is not remarkable, but captive birds are often taught to whistle simple tunes, which they do most attractively. Often, too, they learn to perform little tricks, and become so tame that they may be allowed to go in and out of their cages at will.
Though bullfinches often are fed entirely on rape seed, it is better to give them a diet of mixed seeds, and they are very fond of berries and green food.